Rating: 5/10 - An okay game marred with several terrible puzzles
(My King's Quest series reviews: I: Quest for the Crown, II: Romancing the Throne, III: To Heir is Human, IV: The Perils of Rosella, V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!, VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, VII: The Princeless Bride)
Mere moments from the end of King's Quest III, King Graham has a heart attack and is dying. The fairy Genesta uses the magic mirror to contact Princess Rosella, offering a deal: Genesta can direct Rosella to a magical fruit that will heal her father, but Rosella will need to recover Genesta's magical amulet from the evil fairy Lolotte. Without the amulet, Genesta will die.
Lacking a better plan, Rosella blunders into Lolotte's domain, and Lolotte tasks Rosella to fetch her several rare objects to avoid being put to death. Eventually Rosella earns Lolotte's trust and gets the chance to strike back.
The plot isn't as compelling as KQ3's, but it does. It falls down on a moment-to-moment basis. While in KQ3 Gwydion is constantly seeking out ingredients for a spell to stop Manannan, in KQ4 Rosella engages in tasks for no particular purpose. For example, Rosella has no idea where to look for Pandora's Box, so she inexplicably spends the next half hour appeasing ghosts. This task does eventually lead to the box, but not in a foreseeable way.
In one particularly awful case, Rosella cleans a mysterious house for no reason. Having done so, she ends up (accidentally) with some diamonds. Rosella trades the diamonds for a fishing pole. Chasing away a bird, Rosella can get a worm. Armed with the pole and worm, she bags a fish. Much, much later in the game, Rosella will find herself stranded on an island. She'll need the fish to feed to a pelican, causing it to inexplicably leave a whistle behind. Blowing the whistle summons a dolphin to give you a ride back to the mainland. So in summary: Rosella needs to clean a dwarf's house, then trade a valuable bag of diamonds for a fishing pole, all so a pelican on an island Rosella has never heard of will give her a whistle. If you fail one of the preceding steps, you'll find yourself trapped on the island, unable to move forward.
While KQ3 was set in a bland, reasonably consistent fantasy world, King's Quest IV brings back the generic mishmash. We've got evil hags, cupid, seven dwarves, an ogre with a hen that lays golden eggs, an animated mummy, zombies, ghosts, Pandora's Box, and a unicorn. Again, it's silly, but it isn't a big deal.
As to the dwarves, dealing with them features one of the most boring cutscenes in gaming history. Upon cleaning their house, they walk in, one at a time, get some stew, and sit down. This takes a minute or so. Then Rosella sits down to join them, and the group eats, another minute or so. Then they leave, one at a time again, taking another minute or so. Poorly thought out and deeply boring.
Graphically this marks the series jumping to a new engine (That was also used for the KQ1 enhanced version). The new engine looks good and has aged reasonably well, but keeps many of the parsing problems from the previous games. The command "talk to him" at one produces the response "There is no one nearby," when there is indeed a man nearby. Only "talk to man" works. Rosella can look at objects which aren't present in the scene. Instead of being told, "You don't see that," you get the far more misleading, "You see nothing special." In one particularly confusing moment, "look guard" tells me "You see nothing special," while "look goon" actually described the guard.
Oddly enough, the game frequently refused to let me see my inventory, for no obvious reason. The ability always returned, but this was annoying.
Similar to KQ3's book problem, there are several places where an important object is described in the text, but it's not obvious where it is in the scene. In one particularly frustrating moment, I'm told that Rosella sees a "glint" in the sand. There is no graphical representation of a glint, and I was forced to slowly move around the scene trying to get the glint until I got the important item.
Again, clicking the wrong spot can be fatal. There are several extremely tricky spiral staircases that are difficult because of the user interface, not because the stairs are that dangerous.
On the up side, sometimes Rosella can fall a short distance and survive. Unfortunately she's inconsistent. In one part of the game a two foot fall near a mine briefly knocks her out. In another part she'll leap about six feet off a staircase and happily walk off without breaking stride. In another part a four foot fall is fatal.
On the subject of random death, at one part in the game you need to walk through a large, pitch black cave. Wandering in the cave is a troll; if it catches Rosella she dies and the game ends. The troll moves much faster than Rosella. Rosella has a lantern, but it is ineffective, failing to give any useful clue to the room's layout. In essence, you're stuck saving at the entrance and slowly map the place out, frequently dying. Once you've found the route, you need to save and restore until you manage to get through without getting killed by the troll. This isn't a puzzle, it's simple player abuse.
What with all of the dying we did during the game, it seems an odd decision for the "You lose" screen to feature Roberta Williams smiling smugly at the player and offering the unhelpful advice "Next time... be more careful." Many mean spirited curses were wished upon Roberta as we played.
Rosella has some odd qualms. She won't poke around in an ogre's dresser ("No, that's private"), but she's perfectly happy to steal his axe and magical hen. This lazy cover up saves them from having to write new text or possibly create new animations, but makes Rosella appear a bit insane.
Similarly, at one point you encounter a trio of murderous cannibal hags. You steal their single magical eye, blinding them and giving you negotiating power to acquire a useful item. Afterwards, you get points for returning their eye to them. Why would you want to reward helping murderous cannibals?
The hags also feature an odd block. Once you steal their eye, they refuse to negotiate until you leave and return. This was surprising, frustrating, and wasn't really fun. If the goal was to suggest you were torturing the hags for a while until they were desperate, the hags' dialog could have hinted at this.
There is a reasonably good game hiding in here, unfortunately you'll spend a lot of the game wishing ill on Roberta Williams. I only recommend the game to game historians or die hard fans of the series.
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